By Sarah Kitteringham
CALGARY — Socio-political music has deep roots in the national hotspots of Winnipeg and Vancouver. On the Winnipeg side, their diverse population and working class roots collided with a massive university population, fostering a wave of punk, roots, rap, and grindcore fixated on social justice. On the Western Seaboard the enduring social problems of homelessness, drug addiction and a lack of affordable housing converged, resulting in a long and varied lineage of furious punk rock and hardcore. This ancestry can be traced directly to the Rebel Spell, a quartet funded by the people for the people. Their newest album The Last Run continues the lineage.
“We started working on a song about the wolf culls that were have been happening in [British Columbia] and Alberta,” begins vocalist Todd Serious, who formed the band in 2002 in East Vancouver, with an emphasis on “DIY culture, community building and social change.” His bandmates include Wretched Erin (guitar and vocals), Elliot Fanglord (bass and vocals), and Travis de Chal (drums and vocals).
“The title Last Run came from the heart-breaking image of these individuals being chased by, and shot from helicopters. As the song came together it was evident that it wasn’t just the wolves that were being scapegoated for the ecosystem destruction and by the time I wrote the closing rant of the song, Last Run referred to industry running the entire planet down, not just the wolves and caribou.”
Musically, the band takes obvious influence from the driving yet downtrodden approach of Propagandhi, while integrating piano and violin into their driving and often epic arrangements. On previous albums they’ve worked with other diverse instrumentation, ranging from organ, fiddle, and more.
“On Last Run we have Elliot [Fanglord, current bassist] able to do the piano parts we wanted on the record. The fiddle and piano are such class instruments and capable of producing the darkest of soundscapes,” describes Serious. “We asked Jeff Andrew to do a song with us on this album cause we love his music and his love for history and story-telling seemed like a great fit to work on the ‘Tsilhqot’in War.’”
The recording costs were provided by 230 funders, who raised $11,015 for the band between April and June, each of which who received a plethora of perks. This approach was necessary, given the bands deeply embedded DIY ethics, which have seen them work with socio-politically minded labels like the G7 Welcoming Committee, Rebel Time Records, and their own imprint Clandestine Collective.
“The DIY ethos is as much a practical thing as a philosophical one when you want to get going on a music project like this,” says Serious. “When we started it was the only way anything was going to get done. Now it is a way of keeping things running in a way that keeps it relevant to all the members or the band. Kind of a worker-owned collective model. Everybody in the band has some clue how to do all the different jobs that are involved in keeping the whole thing moving, From booking shows and song writing to driving, cooking, collecting vegetable oil and vehicle repairs on the road. We live in a society of specialization and it traps us in roles that grow boring and limits our ability to be self-sufficient. I love learning new things and doing them is the best way for me.”
If you’re scratching your head at the “vegetable oil” comment, we’ll explain. Touring necessitates a massive amount of fuel, so Serious converted his vehicle to run on vegetable oil, invested in removing the hypocrisy of utilizing massive amounts of resources while harping on others for committing similar abuses. In other words, rather than being a punk band that simply reiterates the tropes of the genre, the Rebel Spell actually lives it.
“Burning waste vegetable oil has allowed us to travel in a bigger and far more comfortable rig where everybody has their own bunk and a little space to sulk or sleep or whatever they need to do. Environmentally speaking we are burning a waste product of the fast food industry that is destined to become CO2 anyway,” he explains, before concluding, “Carbon neutral or some shit.”
Watch the Rebel Spell on November 16 at Lord Nelson’s Bar & Grill.AB, Alberta, Lord Nelson's, socio-political music, The Rebel Spell